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- Great Fortunes from Railroads - 10/57 -
labor leaders away from a hostile stand to the established political parties, and to prevent the massing of workers in a party of their own, the politicians began an insidious system of bribing these leaders to turn traitors. This was done by either appointing them to some minor political office or by giving them money. In many instances, the labor unions in the ensuing decades were grossly betrayed.
Finally, the politicians always had large sums of election funds contributed by merchants, bankers, landowners, railroad owners--by all parts of the capitalist class. These funds were employed in corrupting the electorate and legislative bodies. Caucuses and primaries were packed, votes bought, ballot boxes stuffed and election returns falsified. It did not matter to the corporations generally which of the old political parties was in power; some manufacturers or merchants might be swayed to one side or the other for the self-interest involved in the reenactment of the protective tariff or the establishment of free trade; but, as a rule, the corporations, as a matter of business, contributed money to both parties.
THE BASIS OF POLITICAL PARTIES.
However these parties might differ on various issues, they both stood for the perpetuation of the existing social and industrial system based upon capitalist ownership. The tendency of the Republican party, founded in 1856, toward the abolition of negro chattel slavery was in precise harmony with the aims and fundamental interests of the manufacturing capitalists of the North. The only peril that the capitalist class feared was the creation of a distinct, disciplined and determined workingmen's party. This they knew would, if successful, seriously endanger and tend to sweep away the injustices and oppressions upon which they, the capitalists, subsisted. To avert this, every ruse and expedient was resorted to: derision, undermining, corruption, violence, imprisonment--all of these and other methods were employed by that sordid ruling class claiming for itself so pretentious and all-embracing a degree of refinement, morality and patriotism.
Surveying historical events in a large way, however, it is by no means to be regretted that capitalism had its own unbridled way, and that its growth was not checked. Its development to the unbearable maximum had to come in order to prepare the ripe way for a newer stage in civilization. The capitalist was an outgrowth of conditions as they existed both before, and during, his time. He fitted as appropriate a part in his time as the predatory baron in feudal days.
But in this sketch we are not dealing with historical causes or sequences as much as with events and contrasts. The aim is to give a sufficient historical perspective of times when Government was manipulated by the capitalist class for its own aggrandizement, and to despoil and degrade the millions of producers.
The imminence of working-class action was an ever present and disturbing menace to the capitalists. To give one of many instances of how the workers were beginning to realize the necessity of this action, and how the capitalists met it, let us instance the resolutions of the New England Workingmen's Association, adopted in 1845. With the manifold illustrations in mind of how the powers of Government had been used and were being increasingly used to expropriate the land, the resources and the labor and produce of the many, and bond that generation and future generations under a multitude of law-created rights and privileges, this association declared in its preamble:
Whereas, we, the mechanics and workingmen of New England are convinced by the sad experience of years that under the present arrangement of society labor is and must be the slave of wealth; and, whereas, the producers of all wealth are deprived not merely of its enjoyment, but also of the social and civil rights which belong to humanity and the race; and, whereas, we are convinced that reform of those abuses must depend upon ourselves only; and, whereas, we believe that in intelligence alone is strength, we hereby declare our object to be union for power, power to bless humanity, and to further this object resolve ourselves into an association.
One of the leading spirits in this movement was Charles A. Dana, a young professional man of great promise and exceptional attainments. Subsequently he was bought off with a political office; he became not only a renegade of the most virulent type, but he leagued himself with the greatest thieves of the day--Tweed and Jay Gould, for example--received large bribes for defending them and their interests in a newspaper of which he became the owner--the New York _Sun_ --and spent his last years bitterly and cynically attacking, ridiculing and misrepresenting the labor movement, and made himself the most conspicuous editorial advocate for every thieving plutocrat or capitalist measure.
The year 1884 about marked the zenith of the era of the capitalist seizing of the public domain. By that time the railroad and other corporations had possessed themselves of a large part of the area now vested in their ownership. At that very time an army of workers, estimated at 2,000,000, was out of employment. Yet it was not considered a panic year; certainly the industrial establishments of the country were not in the throes of a commercial cataclysm such as happened in 1873 and previous periods. The cities were overcrowded with the destitute and homeless; along every country road and railroad track could be seen men, singly or in pairs, tramping from place to place looking for work.
Many of those unemployed were native Americans. A large number were aliens who had been induced to migrate by the alluring statements of the steamship companies to whose profit it was to carry large batches; by the solicitations of the agents of American corporations seeking among the oppressed peoples of the Old World a generous supply of cheap, unorganized labor; or by the spontaneous prospect of bettering their condition politically or economically.
Millions of poor Europeans were thus persuaded to come over, only to find that the promises held out to them were hollow. They found that they were exploited in the United States even worse industrially than in their native country. As for political freedom their sanguine hopes were soon shattered. They had votes after a certain period of residence, it was true, but they saw--or at least the intelligent of them soon discerned--that the personnel and laws of the United States Government were determined by the great capitalists. The people were allowed to go through the form of voting; the moneyed interests, by controlling the machinery of the dominant political parties, dictated who the candidates, and what the so-called principles, of those parties should be. The same program was witnessed at every election. The electorate was stimulated with excitement and enthusiasm over false issues and dominated candidates. The more the power and wealth of the capitalist class increased, the more openly the Government became ultra-capitalistic.
WEALTH AND THE SWAY OF DIRECT POWER
It was about this time that the Senate of the United States was undergoing a transformation clearly showing how impatient the great capitalists were of operating Government through middlemen legislators. Previously, the manufacturing, railroad and banking interests had, on the whole, deemed it wise not to exercise this power directly but indirectly. The representatives sent to Congress were largely lawyers elected by their influence and money. The people at large did not know the secret processes back of these legislators. The press, advocating, as a whole, the interests of the capitalist class, constantly portrayed the legislators as great and patriotic statesmen.
But the magnates saw that the time had arrived when some empty democratic forms of Government could be waved aside, and the power exercised openly and directly by them. Presently we find such men as Leland Stanford, of the Pacific railroad quartet, and one of the arch-bribers and thieves of the time, entering the United States Senate after debauching the California legislature; George Hearst, a mining magnate, and others of that class.
More and more this assumption of direct power increased, until now it is reckoned that there are at least eighty millionaires in Congress. Many of them have been multimillionaires controlling, or representing corporations having a controlling share in vast industries, transportation and banking systems--men such as Senator Elkins, of West Virginia; Clark, of Montana; Platt and Depew, of New York; Guggenheim, of Colorado; Knox, of Pennsylvania; Foraker, of Ohio, and a quota of others. The popular jest as to the United States Senate being a "millionaires' club" has become antiquated; much more appropriately it could be termed a "multimillionaires' club." While in both houses of Congress are legislators who represent the almost extinguished middle class, their votes are as ineffective as their declamations are flat. The Government of the United States, viewing it as an entirety, and not considering the impotent exceptions, is now more avowedly a capitalist Government than ever before. As for the various legislatures, the magnates, coveting no seats in those bodies, are content to follow the old plan of mastering them by either direct bribery or by controlling the political bosses in charge of the political machines.
Since the interests of the capitalists from the start were acutely antagonistic to those of the workers and of the people in general from whom their profits came, no cause for astonishment can be found in the refusal of Government to look out, even in trifling ways, for the workers' welfare. But it is of the greatest and most instructive interest to give a succession of contrasts. And here some complex factors intervene. Those cold, unimpassioned academicians who can perpetuate fallacies and lies in the most polished and dispassionate language, will object to the statement that the whole of governing institutions has been in the hands of thieves--great, not petty, thieves. And yet the facts, as we have seen (and will still further see), bear out this assertion. Government was run and ruled at basis by the great thieves, as it is conspicuously to-day.
THE PASSING OF THE MIDDLE CLASS.
Yet let us not go so fast. It is necessary to remember that the last few decades have constituted a period of startling transitions.
The middle class, comprising the small business and factory men, stubbornly insisted on adhering to worn-out methods of doing business. Its only conception of industry was that of the methods of the year 1825. It refused to see that the centralization of industry was inevitable, and that it meant progress. It lamented the decay of its own power, and tried by every means at its command to thwart the purposes of the trusts. This middle class had bribed and cheated and had exploited the worker. For decades it had shaped public opinion to support the dictum that "competition was the life of trade." It had, by this shaping of opinion, enrolled on its side a large number of workers who saw only the temporary evils, and not the ultimate good,
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